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Hiking Boots

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At 4.30 in the morning, Lewis is standing in front of his charming little Swiss inn, backpack in hand.

He kneels down, pulls the laces of his new hiking boots and reties them. The cool air of the early morning makes him shiver.

There's footsteps approaching round the corner and before he can fully register the sound of boots on the gravel of the driveway, Lewis finds himself in a tight embrace.


Lewis hugs him back, feels Seb's stubble scratch lightly against his cheek.

He smells good, like baked goods and warmth and aftershave and Lewis is reminded why he enjoys spending time with Seb so much. 

Seb doesn't ask, not why Lewis has come here on such short notice, not about how he's doing or about work, about late night - early morning, really - texts asking to meet up.

Seb just says Come on, let's go and then they do just that.

Lewis follows Seb - or rather, Seb's massive backpack - in silence for the better part of an hour.

They start out walking through the village, always uphill, past some pretty, half-timbered farm buildings.

There's light glowing through the windows of a bakery. Lewis closes his eyes and breathes in the smell of fresh bread wafting through the air. 

He only opens his eyes when he hears Seb's soft chuckle. Seb is smiling at him, his face half in the light of the bakery, half in the dark. He just nods at Lewis and then is back in front, leading the way. 

They get out of the village quickly. 

The street changes to a dirt road, deep imprints of tractor tires on either side. 

A small stretch of forest later, Lewis suddenly comes face to face with the backpack as its owner abruptly stops in his tracks.

To their left, theres a meadow and Seb, bracing himself on a wooden post, is leaning over the electric fence, holding his hand out to a curious cow.

Although the sun isn't up yet, it's much lighter than when they started already and Lewis tries to etch the gleeful expression on Seb's face into his brain.

In the end, he can't resist taking a snapshot of Sebastian, laughing softly as the cow licks his hand.

Seb is laughing too, both of them desperately trying to keep quiet to not scare the cow and her herd away who have, one by one, shuffled closer to where the both of them are standing.

He moves towards Lewis, clearly intent on smearing his cow-slobber wet hand on Lewis' expensive and probably not perfectly equipped for hiking purposes jacket. Lewis dives out of the way, shoving Seb in the process. 

All of a sudden, Seb's expression changes to something much softer than his previous childish happiness.

"Lewis, look!" he says in a quiet voice barely above a whisper, pointing to another part of the meadow.

First, Lewis doesn't know what he means but then he sees what Seb's pointing at.

Further back in the meadow he notices another cow, almost not visible. She is nudging at something on the ground. It's moving, and Lewis feels Seb holding onto his arm.

A tiny calf is trying to stand up on wobbly legs.

It balances for a few seconds, then slowly tips over and lands in the grass again.

The two of them stand for some time, watching the mother lick her baby's face after the failed attempt to stand. The calf tries again, this time with a better result.

It manages to hold itself upright and starts to drink from its mother.

The sky is brightening up as they continue walking.

"It must've been born tonight," Seb says, his voice soft. "We were the first ones to see them."

Lewis feels strangely proud.

It's just a baby cow, seen from a distance, but to be the first person to have seen it, to have witnessed that it is an alive, breathing being feels special.

He turns to look at Seb. The smile on his face is so different from his media smile. 

Seb looks content, relaxed. 

His eyes meet Lewis' and he gently grabs his arm once more. 

"Come on, if we want to get to the summit by midday, we'll have to go on now. It's still a long way and we're not even at the breakfast spot yet."

"Seb, I called you yesterday to tell you I'm coming here. How did you-" 

"Must be my excellent planning skills," Seb interrupts him, "and you really need to get a move on." 

They walk on along the path, always uphill. 

There's more cows along the way but no other people yet, save for a farmer on his tractor that has them squeeze themselves against a barbed wire fence so the don't get run over. 

The fence catches on Lewis' jacket and rips a small hole in it. 

Lewis is tempted to complain, but looking at Seb, who probably has a comment or two about impractical clothing on the tip of his tongue, he swallows his complaints. 

For once, Seb actually doesn't look like he fell into the bargain bin at Poundland. 

"You look like you belong here." 

It leaves Lewis' lips before he can think about it. Seb in his hiking boots and his backpack, a nondescript beanie on his head. 

The darker colors of his clothes make him look more alive than red ever did. 

"Do I really look that out of place at the track?"

Seb looks concerned and Lewis feels like he's said something inappropriate. 

"When you're in the paddock? Yes, sometimes. But not in the racing suit. When you're wearing that, everyone knows how much you belong there."

Seb seems mostly satisfied, but for good measure, Lewis adds "and we can work together on the paddock part. I think I have a perfect outfit you'll look amazing in and-" 

He's interrupted by Seb shoving him to the side. 

"And walk around like I got kicked out of fashion week? I'll leave that to Charles. I'm not attractive enough to get away with those looks." 

"You're so wrong, man. Just let me burn all your shorts and buy some real clothing, you'll look amazing. I promise."

Seb is checking something on his phone but mumbles something about sure mate, it's not as if Hanna hasn't been trying for years I love my shorts. 

Lewis shoves him back amd Seb almost falls over a stone on the path because he's still too focused on his phone. 

Lewis is just about to ask what he's doing, but Seb walks a few meters off the path to a bench on the edge of the forest the path is going along. 

He sets his backpack down. 

It looks extremely heavy. 

Lewis follows suit, sets his own (much smaller, trendier) backpack down next to Seb's and watches his friend pull a paper bag out of the backpack. 

From the paper bag, he takes a bread roll and holds it out to Lewis. 

"Elderberry jelly," he says. "We have some in the garden and I hate letting it go to waste. I have syrup too, if you want a bottle ot two. Oh, and there's no animal products in there, of course." 

Seb takes another bread roll and takes a bite and Lewis follows suit. 

The jelly tastes amazing. 

After a few minutes of sitting on the bench, Lewis also realizes why Seb was so focused on his phone earlier as the sun rises between the mountain tops directly across from them. He must have been checking the sunrise times, that big nerd. 

Seb screws the cap off of a thermos bottle and pours some tea in it before he wordlessly offers it to Lewis. 

Lewis takes a sip of the hot beverage, then hands it back to Seb who does so too. 

He feels warm, both from the tea, the rising sun and Seb next to him, Seb, who, when Lewis called him the day before, had apparently instantly planned a day long hike for them together in finest detail. It's not something everyone would do for someone who has been their greatest rival over a decade. 

Lewis is incredibly tempted to just drop his head on Seb's shoulder. Instead he leans against the backrest of their bench and closes his eyes, concentrating on the clear morning air filling his lungs.

When he opens his eyes again, Seb is looking at him with a curious expression on his face. He looks like he wants to say something but in the end he just nudges Lewis and hands him the thermos again with the words "Drink up, we need to get a move on."

Lewis does as he's told. Seb pulls two apples out of his backpack. He hands one to Lewis in exchange for the now empty thermos which he methodically stuffs into the backpack.

They carry on walking. The apples are a little on the small side but taste delicious. "They're from the garden too," Seb says, pride in his voice. "The girls picked them."

Lewis follows Seb's example of chucking the apple core into the pines next to the path.

Seb halts for a few seconds and instructs Lewis to pull a packet of wet wipes out the side pocket of his backpack. Lewis pulls one out, and puts the pack back in the pocket. He wipes his sticky fingers and before he stops to think, he grabs Seb's hand and begins to gently wipe it as well.

One hand supporting the back of Seb's, the other running the wipe along the fingers individually, lingering on each digit.

He then wordlessly takes Seb's other hand too, cleans it and lets his thumb rest on the lines in the palm for a few seconds. 

Lewis remembers an instance when he was fucking around with Jenson years ago, somewhere in New York where a girl on the sidewalk had offered palm readings.

He wonders what that girl would make of the lines in Seb's palm. 

Seb shifts a little and, as Lewis looks up at his face, he smiles and bites his bottom lip. 

When Seb pulls away to readjust his beanie, Lewis awkwardly puts his hands in his pockets, not knowing what to do with them. 

They walk on, and as they get higher and higher, the trees at the edge of their path get fewer and further apart as the hours go by. Besides from pointing out wildlife and the occasional anecdote based on said wildlife, there isn't much talk between them. 

Another thing Lewis likes about Seb. He's never desperate to fill every second of the day with words. He lets the silence hang gently in between them, just glancing at Lewis now and then, catching his gaze and smiling. 

Someone else might have pushed Lewis to tell what the fuck possessed him to just come to Switzerland like that on a whim, what pushed him to leave from a day at the factory and, without even going home, packing only a change of clothes from the factory gym, to call his flight crew from the cab to the airfield and just go. 

Seb doesn't ask. Granted, he doesn't know all of it, but Lewis, in his trendy clothes that don't match the shiny new hiking boots he bought directly at the airport, doesn't look his most coherent and Seb, observant as always definitely has noticed. 

But he doesn't ask, he just leads the way, occasionally frowning at the map on his phone when they get to a crossroads, sometimes stopping to take his water bottle out of his backpack and handing one to Lewis as well. 

It's almost noon when the path changes from dirt to rock and gravel. 

Sometimes there's steep passages where they have to carefully climb from rock to rock. 

When Lewis sees Seb struggle to balance out the weight of his backpack, he holds out his hand and Seb takes it. It feels nice to be holding Seb's weight on these passages. Neither of them let go when the path evens out again and Lewis is so preoccupied with the feeling of Seb's warm hand in his that it comes as a shock when he's suddenly yanked back by it. 

Theres a mountain goat standing right in their way. 

It looks at them with yellow eyes and cocks its head. 

To Lewis, those horns look more than intimidating. 

Seb's voice makes him jump. 

"They're very rare." 

"The goats?" 

"No, those two rocks over there. Of course the goats. It's a grey mountain goat. Capra Grigia they're called I think." 

Lewis smiles. Of course Seb knows what kind of possibly dangerous animal is blocking their path. 

"Are they dangerous? Like, when you come too close to their territory?" 

It sounds kind of ridiculous. 

The goat looks at them through its grey fringe, distinctly unimpressed. 

Seb is unsuccessfully trying to hide a smile. 

"They're just living their life here. Nothing to fear. It'll probably just leave when we get closer."

Reassured, Lewis takes a step toward the goat. It looks at him, shakes its head and moves on down the steep hill. 

Lewis breathes out. He hears Seb chuckle behind him but it doesn't matter. He isn't cut out to be a country boy and he knows it. Seb doesn't tease him any further and they march on, hand in hand.

At one point Lewis thinks Seb wants to let go, but he only shifts his hand and entwines their fingers. They don't comment on it.

The weather is strange, the air cold enough to burn but the sun warming them up uncomfortably at the same time.

Seb, of course, has a multifunctional jacket and Lewis hangs on to the incredibly heavy backpack while his friend takes off his jacket, zips out the fleece layer inside, ties said layer around his waist and pulls the wind- and rainproof outer layer on again.

Lewis on the other hand can't do much with his puffer jacket except open the zipper but if he does so, the cold wind hits his chest and neck with full force. He's been sweating quite a bit and he really doesn't want to get pneumonia so he zips his jacket closed again up to his neck and decides to suffer silently. At least he doesn't have to carry the criminally heavy backpack.

It's almost anticlimactic when they reach the summit. Here, there's no chequered flag, no gleeful pit crew, no champagne. The only reward they get is the view, and what a spectacular view it is.

They sit down on a rock, Seb pulling out his phone and pointing to where he assumes the came from only to be proven completely wrong by Google Maps a few seconds later.

Seb gives up his attempt at orienteering and finally reveals the reason his backpack seemed to weigh more than his racecar to Lewis.

He unpacks a few Tupperware containers and stacks them neatly on top of each other, the two biggest ones on the bottom and the smaller ones on top.

Next, he pulls out a gas camping stove and a large lightweight pan, probably made for camping as well. 

Seb has apparently raided an outdoor store amd Lewis wouldn't be surprised if he pulled out an ice pick or climbing rope next, but it's just plates and cutlery, also designed to fold and stack up in the most room saving way conceivable. 

Lastly, he takes out a packet of matches.

"Are you going to help or just sit and watch?"

Lewis quickly shakes off the mental image of Sebastian desperately trying to stuff an ice pick into the backpack and does as Seb tells him to.

Seb gets the stove going while Lewis opens the big Tupperware containers and pours the contents - pre-cooked white rice in one, vegetables soaked in oil in another, slices of marinated tofu in a slightly smaller one - in the pan which he then hands to Seb.

It smells amazing.

Following Seb's instructions, Lewis carefully opens a smaller container and pours about half of the sauce that's inside into the sizzling pan as well.

Shortly after, Seb declares their lunch done, splits the contents of the pan evenly in half and fills their plates. Then he artistically drizzles the rest of the sauce over the food.

If Lewis thought it smelled amazing, that's nothing against the taste.

He wolfs down every last bit of the food and makes Seb promise to send him the recipe.

Seb's face breaks into a wide smile at the praise and Lewis is oh so tempted to half-mockingly, half because it actually looks adorable, pinch his cheeks. He doesn't give in though which is probably for the best since Seb is still his conpetitor and a fierce rival and not a toddler.

He is adorable anyways though.

The other two containers contain fruits and yogurt. "It's almond yogurt," Seb cuts in before Lewis can say anything, "don't worry, I didn't forget you're vegan."

He says it so matter-of-factly, as if no one could ever forget other people's diets and Lewis is suddenly flooded by warmth.

They dip their slices of fruit into the yogurt, hands brushing sometimes.

Lewis licks his fingers clean afterwards.

They stack the empty containers together and put everything away, dirty kitchenware packed into a plastic bag.

"So what do you normally do when you're at the summit?" Lewis asks.

"It depends. With my family? Have sandwiches, look around a bit, collect pretty rocks. With Antti, we mostly just take a short break, maybe some breathing exercise, and then go down again."

"So this isn't standard procedure?"

"What even is standard in our lives?", Seb laughs. "Why, do you want to do something?"

Lewis nods. He pushes himself to stand and takes his jacket off. Seb follows suit.

Lewis swiftly goes through the motions of the Archer once and expectantly looks at Seb who seems rather lost.

"It's Qi Gong," Lewis explains. "Just follow me. Breathe in with one move and out with the next one."

Seb does as asked and after two repetitions, they move in perfect unison, just them and the mountains. It makes Lewis understand why so many Buddhist monasteries are set in the mountains. There's a special solitude here, in the face of air and naked rock, something spiritual and hard to grasp about the way the earth meets the sky and only them in between.

Lewis gets pulled back into reality by a surprised exclamation from Seb. "I can actually feel it!", he laughs incredulously. "It's like, this warmth spreading through your body!"

His laughter is infectious and soon they both sit on the ground, still quietly laughting, filled with gentle bliss.

Seb drops his head on Lewis' shoulder and Lewis puts an arm around him, holding him close for a few seconds until they get up, gather their things and make their way down again.

At a fork in the road, Seb hesitates. "Should we take another way back?" he asks.

Lewis shrugs and Seb decides by grabbing Lewis by his arm and pulling him along the path they don't know yet.

As it turns out, the path is beautiful and scenic, leading past a series of crystal clear lakes and bubbly creeks. Lewis watches Seb kneel down to scoop water from a stream and drink. It runs down his chin and wrists as he swallows. He runs his wet hands over his face amd flicks a little water at Lewis.

Seb's hands are reddened from the cold water. Lewis watches as he wipes them on his legs. Then Lewis scoops and drinks water as well. It's freezing and he can feel it run down his throat as he swallows.

He rubs his hands together to warm them up after. The cold isn't as easy to give way as the warmth from before has been. Seb seems to notice too. He takes Lewis' hands in between his and tries to rub them warm.

It does work better than when Lewis tried to do it alone, but it probably has nothing to do with Seb's attempt to warm them up and all to do with the way his tounge pokes out of his mouth in concentration. 

Lewis could come to like the mountains if they always were like this, he thinks, if Seb came with them. 

Even after all the mileage racing brings with it, Seb has a carefree air of innocence to him. It's not true of course, Sebastian is everything but naive but here, the mountains rising high around him, it looks like he's breathing easier. 

Lost in thought, Lewis almost runs into Seb again who has stopped in his tracks. 

"Is it getting darker over there?" Seb points at the sky where it does look a few shades darker than it did only a few minutes ago. 

Seb looks worried and Lewis wants to brush the creases from his forehead. They walk on as the sky darkens rapidly, Seb picking up the pace in the cooling air. 

When they see a forest ranger's stand tucked away between fir trees, Seb hurries towards it. They climb the ladder up and squeeze together on the small bench just as it begins pouring down. 

Seb puts the fleece on under his jacket again. 

Their thighs are pressed together. Their shoulders as well. 

This time Lewis doesn't hesitate and drops his head to lie on Seb's shoulder. 

 Thunder cracks around them and it feels so freeing to just sit there. 

Seb turns to Lewis and wraps his arms around him. Lewis feels his chest move. There's something unspoken in the air between them and while the rain falls on their roof and they're holding on to each other, the way they hang on is a conversation in itself, about hardship and balaclava marks, bruises and broken bodywork. About expectations, not meeting and surpassing them. 

Lewis doesn't cry. Seb does, a little. He tries not to show it but Lewis sees how he tries to inconspicuously wipe at his eyes. They both have their load to carry. 

"Do you want to talk?" Seb asks.

Lewis just breathes into Seb's shoulder.

Seb keeps holding on to Lewis while he starts telling him how to make his elderberry jelly. He calmly explains the most effective way and the best time to harvest it. Which sugar is best and on what kind of bread it tastes best.

"You could come visit when it's the season for it, you know. It's nice to do it together with people. I could need your help fixing my old moped. Someone with a technical mind."

Seb seems so happy when he talks like this. Normally, Lewis doesn't feel the need for this kind of domesticity. But maybe sometimes making jelly with someone you- a friend is a good thing to get some distance. 

"I think I'd like that," he smiles, not thinking about where his mind was going.

They watch the rain fall around them in silence, huddled together.

As soon as it lightens up, they're down the ladder, walking on.

Everything feels different, as if the rain has washed away some of the heaviness that Lewis hadn't even been aware of before.

At the side of a lake, on a small rock, there's a marmot. It looks at Seb who carefully pulls out his phone to take a picture.

Lewis takes his phone out as well, beckoning Seb over to get in frame for a selfie. Seb does as told and smiles happily in the camera. Just as Lewis taps the button, Seb sticks hin tounge out. He looks incredibly stupid on the picture. Lewis quickly takes another one, Seb looking extremely satisfied with himself.

"I'll post those on Instagram, yknow?"

He laughs at Sebastian's alarmed expression and quickly snaps another picture.

"No, I wouldn't. I couldn't do that to you."

Seb rearranges his beanie and poses for another, better photo.

"You can post this one, I don't mind."

Lewis puts his phone away.

"Maybe later."

He leaves out that he could never share those other pictures of Seb, this unguarded person so few people get to see. He's allowed to be selfish about this.

The rest of the way they trade stories, anecdotes from travels, about dogs and colleagues and absent friends. Sebastian is going on about Mick and how proud he is of him and Lewis laughs as Seb falls over a branch in the way as he's animatedly telling a story about his daughter almost breaking his ankle with a lego toy.

Far too soon they get back to the inn Lewis started from.

"Do you need something?", Sebastian asks as Lewis get ready to say his goodbyes.

Reading the confused look on Lewis' face, Seb elaborates.

"You're having dinner at our place tonight, no? Unless you don't want to?"

Lewis must look extremely baffled because Seb laughs and drags him over to a sensible-looking Mini Countryman.

"Dirty shoes in the boot." he orders and Lewis dutifully obliges, walking back in front on socked feet. His sneakers are up in his room and he doesn't really want to go up there, not with the promise of a warm home and dinner waiting for them.

Seb flops down in the driver's seat, now wearing sneakers. It's a short drive to Seb's house, hidden behind large hedges. When Seb opens the door, he has barely time to announce he's home before his daughters launch themselves at him, hugging his legs, excitedly babbling along in German.

They shyly greet Lewis after Seb tells them to and then patter off again. Seb leads the way to the kitchen where they find Hanna standing at the stove, watching their youngest child while stirring something in a pot.

Lewis turns to the girls who have shown up in the door again and attempts to use the three words of German vocabulary he's picked up on them while Seb kisses his wife hello and smoothly takes over her position at the stove so she in turn can come and hug Lewis, greeting him with kisses on both cheeks and a happy smile.

Hanna orders the girls to show him where to set the table and Lewis does as told, putting plates and cutlery neatly in place while the girls explain their seating arrangement to him - not that he understands much of it.

They talk about their day, Lewis showing Hanna the picture of Seb getting licked by the cow, Seb making fun of Lewis getting scared of a goat - "You were this close to turning and running mate, I swear!" - and Hanna showing them some drawings the girls made.

When all the kids are put to bed, they sit on the sofa, Seb in the middle, playing with Hanna's hair as she's cuddled into him from one side. Then, he pulls Lewis closer to him on the other side. Hanna doesn't say anything but when Lewis follows Seb's direction and leans into his other side, she reaches for his hand and squeezes it reassuringly.

Lewis leaves an hour or so later a bag full of small delicious apples, two jars of jelly and a bottle of elderberry syrup in his arms. Seb had offered to drive him, but this plan was quickly scrapped by him yawning and sliding down further on the sofa, taking both Lewis and Hanna with him.

At the door, Hanna hugs him first, then holds him at a distance by his shoulders and looks him in the eyes. She gives him a nod, kisses him on the cheek and walks back into the house.

Seb hugs him tightly. He presses his forehead to Lewis' then, just as Hanna did, kisses his cheek and finally, in a motion so fleeting it might as well not have happened, brushes their lips together. After that, he smiles and watches as Lewis walks out the gate to the waiting taxi. 

Lewis posts the selfie when he can still feel the ghost of Seb's lips on his and captions it with 'sorry, I'll always be a city boy at heart'. 

He sets down the dirty hiking boots at the foot of his bed and goes to sleep.